Azerbaijan: Trial against Leyla and Arif Yunus: Fainting of Mr. Yunusov and hurdles to trial observers

03/08/2015
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed about the new developments in the ongoing trial against Ms. Leyla Yunus, Director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy (IPD) and a member of OMCT General Assembly, and Mr. Arif Yunusov, husband of Ms. Yunus and Head of the Conflictology Department of IPD.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Azerbaijan.

New information:

During the hearing of August 3, 2015, the Azeri authorities strongly restricted access to the courtroom for international independent observers. Unlike previous hearings, no representative of the independent press was allowed into the room. In addition, international observers such as representatives of the United States and the European Union embassies experienced several difficulties before they were allowed in, while their accompanying interpreters were denied access to the courtroom, thereby undermining their monitoring presence inside the room, in violation of the principle of transparency and publicity of judicial proceedings.

In addition, shortly after the beginning of the hearing, an ambulance was called in order to provide first aid healthcare to Mr. Yunusov, who fainted due to a worryingly high arterial pressure. Around 11.50, Mr. Yunusov regained consciousness. It must be recalled that Mr. Yunusov already underwent two hypertensive crises during his arrest and the search of his apartment (see background information).

The hearing was adjourned to August 4, 2015. However, according to the lawyer Afghan Mammadov, the doctor of the National Security prison who came to the court during the episode today reportedly said that Mr. Yunusov health did not allow him to further participate in the trial.

The Observatory urges the Azeri authorities to immediately put an end to the detention of Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov on humanitarian grounds in view of their deteriorating health, and change it into house arrest as a first step to dropping all charges against them, as their detention seems to only aim at sanctioning their activities amidst a wave of ongoing repression against civil society organisations and representatives in Azerbaijan.

Finally, the Observatory calls on the international community to strongly condemn the serious violations of the principles of transparency and publicity of court hearings, and to urge the Azeri authorities to facilitate the observation of the trial by journalists as well as by local and international trial observers.

Background information:

Ms. Leyla Yunus has long fought for human rights and the rights of ethnic minorities in her country. She has been heading the IPD since 1995. In October 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was awarded the Polish Prize of Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and was among the three finalists for the Sakharov Prize. She also received the distinction of “Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur” from the French government in 2013. She has worked on numerous projects relating to human rights, political persecution, corruption, human trafficking, gender-based issues and violations of the right to property. Ms. Yunus and Messrs. Intigam Aliyev and Rasul Jafarov were all members of a group compiling a list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

With her husband, Ms. Yunus has also worked towards reconciliation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, two countries divided on the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Ms. Leyla Yunus has been involved since 2005 in the “Track II Diplomacy” Initiative, and initiated the project of a dialogue between Azeri and Armenians, developed jointly with a regional research centre in Armenia. Ms. Yunus is detained since July 30, 2014. Mr. Yunusov is in prison since August 5, 2014.

On April 28, 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was reportedly invited as a witness on the criminal case against journalist Rauf Mirqadirov, columnist and press correspondent in Turkey for the independent newspaper Zerkalo, to the Investigation Department of Serious Crimes of the Office of Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan. In the evening, however, Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were detained at the Baku Heydar Aliyev airports. The authorities seized their luggages, conducted a search without presenting them any court order, confiscated their passports and seized a laptop, a video camera, USB flash drives and paper records, while denying Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov the right to see their lawyer. Mr. Yunusov was hospitalised for a pre-stroke condition.
On April 29, 2014, after being kept awake the whole night and denied access to toilets, Ms. Yunus was interrogated in relation to the case against journalist Rauf Mirqadirov[1].
Ms. Yunus’ questioning lasted nine hours, and questions all focused on joint projects between the IPD and Armenian NGOs, as well as on her relations with journalist Rauf Mirqadirov. Following this questioning, IPD’s premises were searched and authorities seized all the computers and books belonging to Mr. Yunusov, along with printed documents, including the business card of an Armenian historian. Shortly after, IPD’s bank accounts were frozen. Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were released.
On July 30, 2014, Ms. Yunus was arrested again by the the Prosecutor’s office employees on charges of “treason” (Article 274 of the Criminal Code), “large-scale fraud” (Article (178.3.2), “forgery” (Article 320), “tax evasion” (Article 213), and “illegal business” (Article 192) and brought to the department of grave crimes of the General Prosecutor’s Office, where she had to undergo a six-hour questioning. Informed by telephone, her husband joined her at the department of grave crimes of the General Prosecutor’s Office, where he was also questioned. Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were both charged, and then placed in pre-trial detention. Mr. Yunusov was later placed under house arrest, and arrested again on August 5, for violation of his conditional sentence. Since that date, Mr. Arif Yunusov has been held at the Investigative Prison of the Ministry of National Security, the only remaining prison in Azerbaijan which is not subordinated to the Ministry of Justice. This situation puts him at a high risk of facing torture and ill treatment and the absence of a proper medical unit in this prison has been denounced by various international human rights bodies such as the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) or the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

Following international criticism over the conditions of detentions, the Azeri authorities agreed for Ms. Yunus to be examined on various occasions since December 2014 by a German doctor, Christian Witt, whose official results have not been made public so far. Ms. Yunus’ lawyer, who visited her on February 8, reported that she was preoccupied over the lack of information about the doctor’s diagnosis, that she was suffering from sight problems, and that she was continuing to lose weight. Ms. Yunus, who was previously denied access to medication by the prison authorities, allegedly lost 16 kilograms since her arrest.

On October 18, 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus was transferred to the Investigative Prison of the Ministry of National Security. Ms. Yunus was held there until October 24, date on which she was transferred to Kurdakhani prison.

On September 6, 2014, Ms. Leyla Yunus’s cell-mate who had previously verbally harassed her and thrown plates and dishes at her, assaulted Ms. Leyla Yunus. Ms. Leyla Yunus called for help and when the staff from the prison arrived she reported the attack and asked to see the prison administration. She wrote three pages explaining the event and the previous acts of harassment conducted by her cell-mate. Moreover, she also asked for medicine since she was feeling unwell after the attack but her demand was unattended. On September 7, 2014, she was brought before Major Yagubov who announced her that a reprimand had been issued against her for knocking at the door without any reason and creating unrest inside the cell. No measure has been taken to either punish the cell-mate nor to ensure the protection of Ms. Leyla Yunus.

Ms. Leyla Yunus was later deprived of her lawyer, Mr. Javad Javadov, following his criticism of the judicial process against Ms. Leyla Yunus at an hearing on October 24, 2014. A few days later, her second lawyer, Mr. Khalid Bagirov, was also removed from the case. Moreover, her third lawyer, Mr. Alaif Hasanov, has been subjected to a lawsuit by Ms. Nuriya Huseynova - cellmate of Leyla Yunus – who accused him of passing information to the media. Mr. Alaif Hasanov was the first one to speak out about the condition and physical pressure against Ms. Leyla Yunus via her cell-mate.

On January 5, 2015 and February 2, 2015, the ECtHR communicated on two applications filed for violations of the rights of Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov .
On February 18, 2015, the pre-trial detention of Ms.Yunus was extended until July 28, 2015, and onFebruary 23, 2015, the pre-trial detention of Mr. Yunusov was extended to August 5, 2015.
On July 15, 2015, a pre-trial hearing was held at the Baku Grave Crimes Court. The hearing was scheduled for July 13 but it was cancelled without any official explanation just as it was supposed to get starting. Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov were placed in a glass courtroom cage and the interpreter they needed (they are Russian-speaking persons and the hearing was held in Azeri) sat near the cage.

The lawyer of Ms. Leyla Yunus filed three petitions. Firstly, the lawyer asked the judge to authorise the accused to sit beside her lawyer so as to ensure the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to fully guarantee the right to be assisted by a lawyer. Secondly, the lawyer requested permission to videotape and/or record all the hearings following the principle of publicity of debates. Thirdly, because of the worrying health condition of Ms. Yunus, the lawyer requested to change the current measure of imprisonment for a house arrest, as provided by Article 9.3 of the United Nations International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights .

During the hearing, the lawyers of Ms. Yunus argued that her continued detention was life threatening. Ms. Yunus, who suffers from diabetes and hepatitis C, is in a critical condition and suffers from a medical condition known as hepatomegaly - a liver enlargement and deterioration. In order to stop the process of degradation of the liver she is under heavy medication. The Observatory reiterated that its medical condition is not compatible with prison conditions and urged the authorities to opt for alternatives to pre-trial detention.

During the court hearing pause, Ms. Yunus denounced to the international observers present in the court room that she had been subjected to ill-treatment on four occasions during her detention. More particularly, she complained that, on June 20, 2015, she had been hit in the left eye area.

In addition, the lawyer of Mr. Arif Yunusov filed a petition requesting the authorisation for the accused to sit beside his lawyer and for all charges against him to be dropped in the absence of evidence of guilt.The lawyer denounced the poor conditions of imprisonment at the Investigative prison of the Ministry of National Security, whereMr. Arif Yunusov, who suffers from insomnia high blood pressure, is being detained.

The prosecutor asked the court to reject all five petitions, and the judges did so after short deliberation.

On July 27 and 28, 2015, the trial on the merits started at the Baku Grave Crimes Court, presided by judge Mr. Afgan Hajiyev. The Obervatory mandated an observer to both hearings.The pre-trial hearing had been held on July 15. Ms. Yunus is accused of large scale fraud (Article 178.3.2), fake manufacturing or selling of official documents (Articles 320.1 and 320.2), large scale tax evasion (Article 213.2.2) and illegal business with extraction of income in large size (Article 192.2.1), while Mr. Yunusov is accused of large-scale fraud (Article 178.3.2).

On July 27, around 25 local and international observers and journalists were not allowed into the courtroom, including the observer of the Observatory, a number of diplomats, as well as journalists from the BBC just to mention some, because by the time the main entrance was opened, the room was already almost full of persons whom some local activists and journalists identified as court staff and staff from the Ministry of National Security. Moreover, the trial was held in the smallest courtroom, although some of the larger ones were empty at the time. The Observatory is extremely concerned by this manoeuvres that only aim at limiting the due transparency and publicity of judicial examination, in a case that is at the spotlight of the international community. The Observatory recalls that similar limitations have recently taken place in the trials against other emblematic human rights defenders, such as the first hearing in the case of investigative journalist Ms. Khadija Ismayilova, as well as the appeal hearings against Mr. Rasul Jafarov.

At the start of the July-27 hearing, the defence drew the judge’s attention to the fact that journalists, activists and diplomats were not let into the room. Moreover, lawyer Afghan Mammadov petitioned to change the measure of restraint for Mr. Arif Yunusov, but the prosecutor, Mr. Farid Naghiyev, opposed.

Subsequently, the indictment was read, and both Ms. Yunus and Mr. Yunusov pleaded not guilty. Ms. Yunus stated that the indictment is completely falsified and criticised the despotism and repression in Azerbaijan.

Then the witnesses testified. The head of a department in the City Hall, Mr. Zulfali Ismayilov alleged that the house of the Yunus couple down the Sh. Badalbeyli street was legally demolished in 2011, and that they carried away documents and computers. In response, Ms. Yunus pointed to a decision of the Supreme Court that indicated that property had been destroyed in the course of the demolition, which was also confirmed by one of the witnesses to the hearing. Moreover, Mr. Yunusov pointed out that on August 25, 2011, the Mayor’s office sent a warning to demolish the house, but the house had already been demolished on August 11. Mr. Yunusov added that he was only able to save one computer and two books because a bulldozer began the demolition and did not allow him to save other documents.

Subsequently, witness Tahmasib Novruzov said that since 1988, he suspected Ms. Leyla Yunus of having links with Armenians, and that he was later informed that she was working for the intelligence of Armenia. When the defence asked about the source of that information, the witness replied that he knew that from the press. When asked who had called him to the court as a witness, Mr. Novruzov could not answer the question.

On July 28, 2015, similar restrictions to international observers took place and again only four of them were allowed into the courtroom. At around 10.20 am Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov were placed together in a glass courtroom cage and the interpreter they needed sat near the cage.

During the July-28 hearing, various witnesses testified and declared that they had neither suffered any violation of their rights nor any loss because of the activities of Ms. Yunus. The prosecution asked various questions about Ms. Leyla Yunus’s work with Armenian organisations, which seems to illustrate the political motivations around the case. The prosecutor also accused, without evidence, Ms. Yunus of receiving a grant of 700,000 manat (approximately 610,000 euros) and only transferring 76,000 (approximately 61,000 euros) to the account of the NGO "Society of Women of the Caucasus for Peace and Democracy". Finally, the defence asked for the ex-wife of journalist Mr. Rauf Mirqadirov to be excluded from the list of witnesses, since her testimony had no relation with the merits of the charges being pressed, but the court did not consider the petition.

The following hearing was scheduled for August 3, 2015.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging them to:

i. Immediately release Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov on humanitarian grounds as a first step to their unconditional release, since their detention is arbitrary and only aim at sanctioning their human rights activities

ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov and all the human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

iii. Guarantee the principles of transparency and publicity of court proceedings by taking all appropriate measures to ensure that all journalists and local and international observers are able to monitor the trial of Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov as well as the trials of all human rights defenders in the country;

iv. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov as well as of all human rights defenders in the country;

v. Carry out a prompt, effective and independent investigations into the allegations of ill-treatment against Ms. Leyla Yunus;

vi. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:
- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;
- Article 5, which underscores the right of every individual to form, join, and participate in non-governmental organizations; and
- Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

vii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Azerbaijan.

Addresses:

• Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 19 Istiqlaliyyat St., Baku AZ1066, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 25, (+994) 412 92 28 68, E-mail: office@pa.gov.az, office@apparat.gov.az
• Mr. Zakir Garalov, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prosecutor’s Office, 7 Nigar Rafibeyli St., Baku, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 82, (+994) 12 492 26 63, E-mail: z.qaralov@prosecutor.gov.az, info@prosecutor.gov.az
• Mr. Eldar Mahmudov, Minister of National Security, Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Parliament Avenue 14, Baku AZ1006, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 493-76-22, E-mail: cpr@mns.gov.az
• Mr. Ramil Usubov, Minister of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijani Republic, Fax: (+994) 12 492 45 90
• Mr. Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: katiblik@mfa.gov.az
• Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, Inshaatchilar Prospekti, 1 Baku, Azerbaijan, e-mail: contact@justice.gov.az; Fax (+994) 12 430 09 81
• H.E. Mr. Murad N. Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, Route des Fayards 237, CH-1290 Versoix, Switzerland, Fax: (+41) 22 901 18 44, E-mail: geneva@mission.mfa.gov.az
• Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels, Avenue Moliere 464, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: (+32) 2 345 91 85

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.

***
Geneva-Paris, August 3, 2015

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
• Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80


[1] Mr. Mirqadirov, whose press accreditation was withdrawn with no official reason, had been extradited the day before from Turkey to Azerbaijan and arrested upon his arrival in Baku. He was then placed in detention on charges of spying for Armenia.

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